An academic has embroiled Radio 4 in a very unusual race row after reportedly claiming that Gardeners’ Question Time is littered with racial undertones.
The show, which airs every Friday, is innocuously described by the BBC as: “a panel of horticultural experts answer[ing] gardening questions from a live audience.”
However, its unassuming exterior is concealing more sinister intentions, Dr Ben Pitcher says.
“Gardeners' Question Time is not the most controversial show on Radio 4, yet it is layered, saturated with racial meanings,” Dr Pitcher, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Westminster claimed.
According to the Daily Mail, he said people were vicariously living out their nationalist and fascist fantasies through horticultural chatter on plant species.
Speaking on Thinking Allowed, another Radio 4 programme, he said: “The context here is the rise of nationalism. The rise of racist and fascist parties across Europe.
“Nationalism is about shoring up a fantasy of national integrity. My question is: what feeds nationalism? What makes nationalism powerful?”
He reportedly described gardening as a means through which white people can express their identity without appearing to be racist.
The use of botanic terms such as native and non-native, for example, panders to an innate desire to express nationalism, he says.
“Nationalism is historically about narratives of blood and soil,” he is quoted by the Telegraph as saying.
“The distinction that gets made between native species and non-native species and this kind of policing of what belongs and what does not belong I think is symptomatic of a kind of desire to defend the fantasy of the national space.”
A horticulturalist and long-time Gardeners’ Question Time panellist Stefan Buczacki called the claims “utterly absurd.”
“Gardeners understand the fluidity of species over space and time.
“They come and go, and adapt to different environments. That is what we mean by native and non-native species. It has nothing whatsoever to do with nationalism or racism,” he added.
A BBC spokesman said it was a passing comment that was part of a broader discussion about language and race, which “simply reflected the programme’s use of accepted gardening and horticultural terminology.”